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Christmas present… and in the past

By Vernon Khelawan,

We are fast approaching Christmas 2020 and for sure it’s going to be very different, thanks to the global pandemic— COVID-19.

Our customary, joyful, religious celebrations reminding us of that most memorable night in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago would be quite different this year.

While the celebrations would seem similar, the current health regulations prohibit so very much, that it takes a big bite from our usual celebrations which has become part of the Trini Christmas.

Gatherings have been banned so the office parties, in home or outside are no longer. This means a total reduction in the many Christmas delicacies to which we have become accustomed.

It means that the freeloaders, of which there are many, will have to satisfy their Yuletide desires otherwise. But that will be Christmas 2020. I want to speak today about Christmas as it was to me decades ago.

As a child, while Christmas meant vacation, I looked at it as a double-edged sword. As opposed to the August holidays, when play was the order of the day, Christmas meant plenty of work around the house—scrubbing the furniture, cleaning the house and yard, painting, for those old enough and one thing, hanging those new curtains.

You dared not attempt this chore in the glare of daylight without incurring the wrath of your mother. They could not be hung before darkness fell on Christmas Eve—the reason, according to my mom was the neighbours cannot be allowed to see them until Christmas morning.

But there was a happy ending to all the work. It meant you got a single toy and an extra slice of mommy’s well-cured fruit cake, or if you’re lucky, you can end up with two or even three toys from Santa.

I remember a Christmas—I was about seven or eight. I was not the best child according to my mother’s standards, so all I got was a ‘caps’ gun and two rolls of caps. I shot at everything in sight and by 10 o’clock Christmas Day the caps were done. I couldn’t do another thing but use my mouth to sound like caps. The next year as a better-behaved boy I got a large, red car with brakes too!

Another tradition which always brings a smile to my face were the parang bands. In those days they comprised hardly more than three men—two cuatros and a pair of maracs (chac chac). No women in those times, but as they passed along the street most times, they tuned their cuatros.

I was awake, hoping that they will come to our door for a simple reason, when the paranderos got inside, that was the only time you would get an extra slice of cake or an extra glass of sorrel or ginger beer. If you were lucky you might get two slices or glasses!

Fast forward to my older teenage years. The chores remained, though a lot less, but liming was making inroads into my home life. Making parang without a band was the norm as we made our house-to-house visits, which began right after midnight Mass on the ‘Mount’.

One year, I was upbraided for being quite late for the family Christmas lunch. As the friends list grew longer, the ‘limes’ moved beyond our village. Longer and more intensive ‘limes’ pervaded.

A few more years saw me as a journalist and the rage at the time were the many office parties of various kinds and there were many all over town and all day. Some with ‘eats’ and some without, and copious drinks, but all well-attended. One year, I was having such a great time I forgot I was working. When I eventually got in, the night editor was not entirely pleased. However, in the spirit of the season, I escaped his wrath except for a few well-chosen words.

Then came my Christmas experience in Antigua. What sounded like a music band, actually was. A saxophonist, a trumpeter, two electric guitars, a kettle drum making music at the neighbour’s gate.

They never entered the house but sang and played carols and other seasonal songs and in almost the same way that we paranged house to house. That was Antigua’s way of celebrating the birth of Christ.

I hope the reminisces brought some relief in this time of COVID-19, because those days won’t be back.

May I wish each and every one of you a holy and happy Christmas season. Keep safe, wear your masks, and avoid crowds. Until next year.